From AYF Olympics 2012 Special Issue
AYF Olympic reunion spans 3,000 miles
BOSTON, Mass.—They call the Korean Conflict “a forgotten war.” But don’t tell that to John Krikorian and Gabriel Arakelian. They long to remember it.
It all started on Dec. 2, 1952, almost precisely 60 years ago. They met at Fort Devens, Ayer, preparing to serve their country. Krikorian was active with his Hartford, Conn. community, and Arakelian was rather conspicuous around Springfield, Mass.
Night had fallen around the barracks and Krikorian was bent on getting some shuteye in the lower bunk when…
“Boom! Boom! Boom!” The beat of a drum jolted him awake. He had no idea who the intruder was but some guy in the top bunk.
“I’m playing my dumbeg,” Arakelian revealed. “I happen to be Armenian and this is my instrument.”
“I’m Armenian, too, but that’s no reason to keep a whole platoon from getting some sleep,” Krikorian told the plebe. “The guys are getting annoyed.”
From that encounter six decades ago came a distant acquaintance that never really festered. Both went their separate ways after the war. Arakelian became a barber and did construction. Krikorian went into publishing in Glendale, Calif., and rarely missed an Olympics.
He happened to be seated at a table, scanning the other guests, when he caught an unfamiliar sight. Could it be this guy Arakelian?
Indeed, one and the same. They embraced and reconnected, sharing their sentiments about the war and the dumbeg incident. As Krikorian reached into his wallet and pulled out his draft card, so did Arakelian. And there was the date, Dec. 2, 1952, when they both registered for military service with the U.S. Army.
The fact each of them was 80 years old paid little significance to the moment. They were alive and well, together with their spouses, and had just bridged a 3,000-mile gap from California to Boston for this Olympics.
“I took my dumbeg to war and they wouldn’t let me take it on the front lines,” recalled Arakelian. “They exchanged it for a rifle. John and I were war buddies. It was like finding a lost brother.”
One other thing remained personal to him during the conflict: the Hairenik Weekly. Arakelian wouldn’t leave a foxhole without it.
“I’ve been reading it since I was 14,” he revealed. “And still a subscriber.”
Food for thought
Much as the athletics and dances are Olympic tradition, so, too, is the customary room party hosted by Maro Dionisopoulos, a Providence kefji, and her friends. All the kheymayou can eat, along with other consumables. Just follow the smell of garlic off the elevator.
This evening was special. Out came a photo of the 1961 AYF Convention from the personal artifacts of Lucille (Hamparian) Derderian of Toronto, who attended that conclave over 50 years ago.
A closer look revealed myself and 40 others. Lucille ID-ed every one of those delegates like they were her brothers and sisters. Eight others from that photo were attending this Olympics: Rita Soovajian, her editorial sidekick from the AYF Junior Page, along with Joe Dagdigian, Garo Garabedian, Varoujan “Val” Asbedian who co-chaired the formalities that year, Mesrob Odian, Berj Aslanian from Florida, Mary (Tutelian) Derderian, Sona (Dadekian) Arslanian, and Vahan Assadourian from Canada.
“It’s amazing that after all these years, we’re still together in body and spirit,” said Lucille. “Says a lot for the AYF and its fraternal spirit that never seems to disappear.”
Angel over the Olympics
Remember Angel Perethian? No writer was more popular when it came to reporting on the Olympics than this woman with her “Angel Over the Olympics” pieces during the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. Peoplescrutinized her column to see if they were mentioned.
How anyone could remember thousands of names at such a gathering was beyond our comprehension. But this Angel didn’t skip a beat.
When she finally retired her column in 1979, I sent her a photo showing the two of us at the 1978 games in New Jersey—after her last report. It remained a forgotten gesture until this year’s Olympics in Boston when her friend Alyce Merian handed me an envelope from Angel. The picture was returned with a note.
“You can tell Tom I’ve kept this picture on top of my dresser ever since he sent it to me in 1978,” she wrote. “It’s one of my favorite pictures.”
Angel resides in Canton, Ga. these days, far removed from her Providence heydays, and still as brisk as ever despite the years.
After losing her husband Chick five years ago, Angel moved to Georgia to be closer to her son, daughter, and two grandchildren. Unfortunately, the Armenian community where she resides is sparse.
Merian happened to be on hand to distribute the shot-put medals in memory of Stanley Maligian, who was part of a three-member Brockton team that won an Olympics (unbelievable as that might seem). Maligian excelled in the shot-put and held the record at one time before dying courageously in World War II.
A Kaligian family reunion
Of all the dancing lines at Sunday’s Olympic Ball, none stood out more prominently than the Kaligians’, who formed their own rank and file according to seniority.
Talk about a family affair!
First came the parents, Barkev and Seta, followed by their four sons, Dikran, Garin, Aram, and Zohrab, their spouses Seda, Hooshere, Lenna, and Holly, all joined by their 10 children.
Word has it they had trouble keeping up with the patriarch. Barkev still has the drive and footwork to lead the best line, and no dance opportunity goes without some response.
Rest assured, this is one Olympic family that makes its presence felt. Dikran represented the ARF Central Committee at Opening Ceremonies. Aram served on the medical staff. Zohrab is the ARF advisor to the AYF Central Executive and helped shoulder the load when Racine hosted the Olympics. Garin also does his share, putting to use his capabilities as a New York schoolteacher.
Barkev was named an Olympic King the last time Boston hosted an Olympics in 2001.
“It isn’t very often the whole family comes together like this,” said Dikran. “Our folks were extremely happy.”
The entire clan had also attended the games earlier that afternoon.
Armenian Heritage Park
The hottest attraction around for out-of-towners was a visit to the Armenian Heritage Park in Boston. Many guests arrived at the site in Rose Kennedy Greenway with their families and reveled over the labyrinth and abstract structure.
Seeing the waters of a reflecting pool wash over the sides and re-emerge as a single jet of water at its center raised a few eyebrows.
Feedback was impressive. Several wondered how a $6 million project like this could be met, given the bad economy –and all from the private sector. They also wondered how it could get the backing of key politicians and how it managed to elude Turkish dissenters.
Kudos to the committee and all those responsible for its emergence in having this finalized before the Olympic Games for all to enjoy.
Boston greets massive crowds
It was a textbook setting with massive crowds, a $200 million high school facility, and a well-oiled Olympics that hummed at every turn.
Boston left no stone unturned in this outing, far exceeding any speculation toward mediocrity.
The last time Boston hosted an Olympics, it was 2001. A merger with Watertown had unfolded and the chapter was just flexing its wings. What we have before us now is an operation that features 50 Seniors and 100Juniors who function in unity.
A steering committee was headed by Mike Guzelian and Tamar Kanarian with lots of capable assistance. A 260-page Ad Book generated by John Aftandilian and Chris Hajian, along with their team of 7, brought in some $58,000.
The cover featured the names of AYF chapters past and present, such as Niagara Falls, New Britain, Haverhill, St. Catherine’s, and Brockton, the birthplace of the Olympics.
Finances aside, the crowds were overwhelming. The alumni reunion attracted 1,000 at the ACEC in Watertown Friday night. Saturday’s dance featuring Armenchik brought in 1,400 guests. Sunday’s Ball with Onnik, Johnny, Mal, and company enjoyed a similar turnout.
Over 400 rooms per night were booked at the Westin Waterfront, whose lobby was always bustling with activity. Hye Passes sold in advance numbered 473. A $100,000 goal was being pursued.
“Over 15 committees were responsible for this success,” reported Guzelian. “A lot of technology and sweat went into it. The public relations was fantastic.”
Take it from Kenny Topalian, a member of the steering committee. He felt it was an Olympics worthy of boast.
“It’s the best steering committee I’ve seen in at least the past five years, maybe longer,” he compared. “Their commitment was evident these past two years.”
Washington makes its plans
On to the nation’s capital next year for what appears to be an historic Olympics on two fronts: Not only will Washington host the 80th anniversary of the AYF, but the 70th anniversary of its chapter.
Already secured is the Hilton Washington at $129 a night (cheap by today’s standards) and in the heart of D.C., within close proximity to the fields.
The chapter fielded an all-women’s softball team and 15 athletes—the most since 2005 when they last hosted an Olympics.
“This was the most athletes we’ve ever fielded on the road, so it’s a good sign,” say organizers Sosy Tatarian and Arpa Vartanian. “This will bring our community together in a big way.”
An American eagle mascot was seen meandering throughout the softball games and fields.
For those who wish to think ahead, Detroit has been handed the baton for 2014.